Category Archives: Pino

Historical Romance Review: Autumn Dove by Sylvie F. Sommerfield

book review historical romance
Autumn Dove by Sylvie F. Sommerfield
Rating: two-stars
Published: 1989
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Native American Romance, Western Romance
Pages: 478
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Autumn Dove by Sylvie F. Sommerfield

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Autumn Dove by Sylvie F. Sommerfield, a standalone Zebra romance from January 1989.

The Plot

Starting in 1865, on the Kansas/Colorado border, readers meet Zachary Hale Windwalker. Zach, who is half-white and half-Cheyenne, is trying to discover who is running guns to the plains Indians. This, plus, stirring them up to fight the whites who come into the area.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., Tara Montgomery, 19, has just lost her parents in a carriage accident. With nowhere else to turn, she decides to go west to live with her brother David, a soldier stationed at Fort Lyon.

She signs on to a wagon train, which Zach is leading. He doesn’t want her there, for several reasons, which are quickly revealed.

As the train makes its way west, Tara and Zach become lovers, but also at odds with each other.

The wagon train makes its way to Fort Lyon, where Tara discovers David isn’t there; he’s on assignment from the Army.

We also learn a bit more about Zach; his mother, Karolyn, who was white, was a teacher. She fell in love with Zach’s father, Waiting Wolf. When Karolyn passed, Waiting Wolf married a Cheyenne woman, Singing Grass, Zach’s stepmother, and they had a son, Little Raven.

Little Raven soon gets into trouble sneaking into the fort. He and Zach are arrested and sentenced to hang. They escape as Zach takes Tara hostage.

Readers also meet Tara’s older brother, David, 25. David has issues he’s trying to resolve in his life as well. He’s in love with a Cheyenne woman, Small Fawn. He doesn’t know how his parents–whom he doesn’t know are dead–or Tara will handle this news.

In the end, the gunrunner is caught. David marries Small Fawn. Tara and Zach have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

The best part of Autumn Dove is the second half of the book. It is here that Tara and Zach realize that they love each other and she is able to get him to let go of some of his bitterness regarding his treatment at the hands of white people.

Downside

In order to get to the second half of the book, however, one has to go through the first half, and the first half is…meh.

There is no emotional juice here, at all. There is also no character depth or development. Mrs. Sommerfield never made me care about any of the characters, beyond the fact that they were in the book.

It feels very much like Mrs. Sommerfield fell into the “Readers Are Supposed to Care” trap. In Autumn Dove, Mrs. Sommerfield believes “Readers Are Supposed to Care” because:

  1. Tara lost her parents and has to go to live with her only other relative, David, her brother.
  2. Zach is hurt by being shunned by whites for being half-white, half-Cheyenne.
  3. David is concerned about being shunned and his life because he is in love with Small Fawn.

It is possible I COULD have cared about any or all of those things if Mrs. Sommerfield gave me a reason to do so. She didn’t. The ending of the book is highly disappointing, not to mention boring.

Sex

Multiple love scenes involving Tara and Zach, and one involving Small Fawn and David. None of these love scenes are exciting, interesting, or hot. These love scenes have all the heat of cold water.

Violence

Assault, attempted rape, battery, kidnapping, and “off-screen” killings. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line On Autumn Dove

Mrs. Sommerfield tilled this ground-and in a much better way-in her earlier book, Savage Rapture.

Autumn Dove is a major disappointment.  

Rating Report Card
Plot
2.5
Characters
2.5
Writing
2.5
Chemistry
1
Fun Factor
1.5
Cover
4
Overall: 2.3

Synopsis:

HATE COLD AS THE WINTER SNOW
When her parents died without a cent, innocent Tara Montgomery had no choice but to head for Fort Lyon to reunite with her soldier brother. The independent miss never dreamed of the journey’s perils – and the worst was her suntanned, buckskin-clad wagonmaster Zach Windwalker. His disdain of women traveling alone infuriated her; his grisly stories of Western life annoyed her. But Zach’s masterful lips upon her sensitive flesh drove her to distraction. Even as Tara swore to dispise him forever, the passionate pioneer was guiding his hands to her buttons, her chemise…and to the wildly beating heart beneath!

LOVE HOT AS THE SUMMER SUN
Half-breed frontiersman Zach Windwalker didn’t need a tempting morsel like Tara Montgomery in his life – not when he was on the verge of trapping the gunrunners who were supplying the Cheyenne. The virile tracker planned to almost seduce the untouched beauty to scare her back to Washington D.C. But at the moment the strong-willed male should have pushed her away, he pulled Tara even closer. With only the vast plains and distant hills as witness, Zach was as single-minded as the invincible American eagle as he swooped down with unwavering passion upon his unresisting, gentle AUTUMN DOVE.

AUTUMN DOVE by SYLVIE F. SOMMERFIELD

Historical Romance Review: Hearts Enchanted by Penelope Neri

book review historical romance
Hearts Enchanted by Penelope Neri
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1984
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 574
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooksOpen Library (BORROW FOR FREE)
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Hearts Enchanted by Penelope Neri

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Penelope Neri is one of the more versatile authors I’ve read from Kensington’s Zebra imprint. Neri’s first two books were set in England in the 1700s. Her third book was set in 19th-century Hawaii. Her fourth, Hearts Enchanted, takes place in Medieval England in the 13th century.

For the most part, the books have worked, some better than others. Hearts Enchanted is one of Penelope Neri’s “better than others.”

The Plot

Hearts Enchanted begins with an introduction to the hero, Brian Fitzwarren, a part-French, part-English, part Welsh Lord. He is gifted by King Edward I with land called Striguil, which is on the border between England and Wales. It is there that Brian meets the heroine, Lady Maegan Ruthven.

Brian actually doesn’t meet Maegan, he spies on her bathing and immediately becomes attracted to her, despite the fact that their people are at war with each other. This comes to a head when Maegan’s father and three brothers are captured making war against an English Lord. King Edward I summons Maegan and gives her an ultimatum. She must marry Brian or her male relatives will be killed. Naturally, Maegan agrees to the marriage, although she hopes to leave Brian eventually.

As their marriage goes on, Maegan and Brian are in lust with each other–they’re clearly sexually attracted to each other–but they don’t want to fall in love, as both have been hurt by lost loves. Maegan’s fiancee died. Brian was betrayed by the woman he previously loved, who married his stepbrother for power and wealth. Maegan and Brian also don’t trust each other because of their ethnic backgrounds and Maegan’s belief that Brian is unfaithful to her. He’s not, by the way.

The woman Maegan believes Brian is having an affair with, Lady Moina, is his cousin. She is trying to help Brian regain his rightful title and lands from his evil stepmother, stepbrother, and faithless ex-fiancee. Eventually, Brian regains his lands, title, and most importantly, the love of Maegan as they realize that they truly do love each other, and that overcomes their initial hatred and mistrust of the other person.

The Upside

Hearts Enchanted is a good book, with lots of chemistry.

The Downside

There are some formulaic parts. Namely the fact that, once again, Ms. Neri puts the heroine in peril when she has to be rescued by the hero. This is something that happens in virtually every one of Ms. Neri’s books. This is rather annoying as her female characters are pretty strong women mentally. Yet they always seem to be dumb enough to get into a perilous situation that they need their men to get them out of.

Sex

Quite a few semi-hot sex scenes, but none approach erotica.

Violence

There are a few violent moments, but none too graphic.

Bottom Line on Hearts Enchanted

Hearts Enchanted by Penelope Neri is a nice book for those who like medieval romance. 

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
4
Writing
4
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
4
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.1

Synopsis

PASSIONS ENFLAMED
The moment Lord Brian Fritzwarren saw the saucy, slender wench bathing in the river he could not staunch his desire. Her fresh, sun-warmed skin beckoned for his touch. Her flawless, seductive face invited him to rain fiery kisses along her delicate curves. That she was his enemy’s daughter no longer mattered. The masterful lord resolved that somehow he would claim the irresistible beauty as his own.

WILLS ENTHRALLED
While she frolicked in the sparkling water, tawny-haired Maegan felt she was being watched… then she met the smoldering gleam in Brian’s smoke gray eyes. Her cheeks flushed with shame—but her blood pounded hotly in her veins as he boldly gazed upon her body. Shivering with fear and delight, Maegan fought what she instinctively knew: she could never let herself love her foe, but their paths would forever be entwined, their lives entangled, their HEARTS ENCHANTED.

Hearts Enchanted by Penelope Neri
CATEGORIES: , , , , , , , ,

***

21-cover-artist-to-know

21 Old-School Cover Artists All Romance Readers Should Know

21-cover-artist-to-know

21 of the Best Historical Romance Cover Illustrators

I adore romances from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, partly due to the beautiful cover art. Over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of dazzling images. It’s a fun hobby trying to discover the artists who created them.

This compilation began as an attempt to list the ten artists every lover of old-school romances and clinch covers should know. Ten became fifteen, then twenty. Finally, I settled on 21 illustrators to identify.

This catalog of names consists of some of the best romance cover artists of all time.

That doesn’t mean these are the only artists to know, as this list is limited to historical romances written in the last third of the 20th century.

These 21 entries provide a starting point for the novice learner.

1. Robert McGinnis

Robert McGinnis illustrated Gothic books before he turned to mainstream romance.

His first bodice ripper was Avon‘s reissue of Kathleen E. WoodiwissThe Flame and the Flower. McGinnis then designed the cover for her sophomore outing, The Wolf and the Dove. His suggestive clinches for Johanna Lindsey, Patricia Hagan, and Laura Parker gained him acclaim and notoriety.

McGinnis worked almost exclusively in tempera paints.

His mature, angular style was an instant draw for romance. McGinnis created the first naked man covers, which delighted genre fans.

But it was the McGinnis woman who was a being of legend. McGinnis depicted the feminine form in a most alluring fashion.

“The McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.”

(Source: Vanity Fair)

2. H. Tom Hall

H. Tom Hall’s artwork for romance book covers is legendary. His technique is instantly recognizable: refined and sensual.

The strokes are broad yet precise. Hall’s scenes contain a dark, smoky essence. The heroines’ long locks flow wildly, while the heroes’ faces are shadowed and inscrutable.

Hall had a sensitive, respectful touch when portraying people of different races and ethnicities. Thus his illustrations were prominent on paperbacks set all over the world.

3. Harry Bennett

Harry Bennett‘s dazzling style of swirls and whorls of flowing hair may be especially familiar to fans of Pocket Books‘ early historical romances. He created memorable covers for Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Jude Deveraux.

While his work inspired many other artists, Harry Bennetts covers have been confused with those of H. Tom Hall. While their depictions might appear similar, a keen eye needs only to look at the faces of the male models to spot the difference.

Of his artwork, Bennett’s son Tom, also a painter, said:

“My father had a great facility with mediums, and he experimented and adapted to new trends with different techniques. His favorite medium above all, in both his painting and illustration, was oil.

He also worked extensively in egg tempera, inks, and various combinations of tempera and oil. In the 1950s and early ’60s he worked a great deal in water-based media like gouache.

Later, he would occasionally work in acrylic. But late in his career, it was almost exclusively oil with a black oil medium.”

TOM BENNETT, KILLER COVERS OF THE WEEK

4. Elaine Duillo

Elaine Duillo was the undisputed “Queen of Romance Covers.” She started in pulp fiction before moving on to Gothics and romance.

Duillo was not ashamed to be sexy and outrageous with her art. She embraced camp to the hilt. Her reverence for beauty and perfection made her creative style a wonder to behold.

Duillo’s technique was marked by hyper-realism, unparalleled attention to detail, and a vast palette of colors.

Elaine would paint light hues onto a black canvas. This achieved stunning results for elements such as platinum-blonde or red-gold flowing waves of hair or sumptuous, satin gowns that looked like one could touch them.

Duillo worked in acrylics and oils. She placed her signature, “Elaine,” as close to the bodies as possible.

Her daughter Melissa Duillo-Gallo also produced romance covers, in a manner similar to Elaine’s.

5. Pino Daeni

Pino Daeni’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and their facial expressions make his covers uniquely recognizable.

Daeni was always willing to experiment with different methods and poses. He was one of the early artists to employ the wraparound cover design and the pose and clinch style.

Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting.

Pino’s innovative technique precedes him. He mixed impressionism and realism to create his own intoxicating style.

“I used to paint in the academic way. Then I changed. I could no longer stay with just one school. Everything was interesting to me. I was curious about various schools of thought.”

Pino, (2006)

6. Elaine Gignilliat

Elaine Gignilliat designed covers for hundreds of romances. Her artwork demonstrated exquisite attention to detail, especially with the textures of fabrics and hair. Her use of bright colors against dark backdrops made for remarkable images.

Like most other cover artists of her day, Gignilliat worked in oils.

Also, like many other of her contemporaries, Gignilliat designed covers for epic historical blockbusters and shorter category romances.

After making the initial sketches for a cover, she would start her paintings by drawing everything in oil with a small brush.

Next, she established the color values, where the darkest, middle tones, and lightest areas would be. Then she would add the general colors in a light oil wash.

Afterward, the real painting began as Gignilliat developed the faces and hands, giving them more color and form. This eventually resulted in a beautiful picture which was then made into a book cover.

7. Max Ginsburg

Max Ginsburg‘s fine art is considered to be contemporary realism. He excels at depicting emotional scenes,

Ginsburg’s book covers are more romantic than sensual. The edges of his subjects blur into the background,

While Ginsburg could display the human body in an alluring way, his covers were rarely gratuitous.

He has a compassionate eye that highlights the humanity of his subjects. Like H. Tom Hall, Ginsburg has a talent for empathetically painting people of diverse heritages.

Ginsburg’s style influenced many artists of Avon covers in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

8. Morgan Kane

No one could capture the ornate, intricate patterns of fabrics as Morgan Kane could.

Whether presenting a lacy gown, a multi-textured cape, or a mosaic of hues on a blanket, Kane can make one can feel the material just as well as one sees it.

In contrast, he depicted human forms in a much softer manner. The difference between the grounded beauty of his subjects against ornate backgrounds, textiles, or flowers makes for a visual treat.

9. Robert A. Maguire

Robert A. Maguire was another of the many illustrators who created lurid pulp covers. While his pulp art was highly sexualized, his romance covers are more sedate.

An emotional connection is the focus, not sex. The faces of Maguire’s females are delicate, with thickly-lashed eyes and rosebud lips.

Maguire played light and dark tones against each other in an enchanting manner. His method is not surreal nor hyperreal. Instead, it is idealized unrealism, approaching the imagined perfection of a cartoon.

Like Elaine Duillo, Maguire often placed his signature–“R. A. Maguire”–as close to the bodies as possible, in the shade lighter than the background.

10. Roger Kastel

Famous for his movie posters, Roger Kastel‘s romance style shares similarities with that of Maguire & most significantly, Max Ginsburg.

Kastel favored a romantic, blurred technique instead of a precise, angular reality.

Kastel’s brushstrokes fused colors together, creating a hazy aura around the couples.

11. Walter & Marie Popp

Walter and Marie Popp designed Regency, Gothic, and bodice ripper covers. Each genre had its own method to it.

The Gothics were shrouded in darkness and mist.

Regencies were marked with a sweet, crisp quality.

For the historical romance covers, the Popps embraced sexy with their curvaceous heroines and muscular heroes.

The female faces look similar, as Walter often used his wife Marie, a model, as his muse. Their expressions are a variation of hers, from their full lips to their round eyes.

12. Victor Gadino

The great Victor Gadino‘s technique is masterful. His attention to fine detail is exquisite.

Note the musculature of the hero’s abdominal and pectorals, the lace on the hem of the heroine’s skirts, the silk pattern of pillows, and the heavy-lidded eyes in the hero’s lusty expression.

His use of jewel-tone colors results in covers that sparkle like precious gems.

More than any other artist since Elaine Duillo, Gadino’s art is typified by a carnal sensuality. His approach is hyperrealistic, with figures as close to perfection as the human eye can conceive.

13. Sharon Spiak

Sharon Spiak’s mentor, the Italian master artist, Pino Daeni, was a massive inspiration to her when she was his apprentice.

She painted in oils, creating an atmosphere of enchantment always backed by passion. Spiak’s paintings for romance novels capture sensuality, beauty, and fantasy by captivating the viewer in the intimacy of the moment.

Her approach differs from cover to cover. There is always a delicacy to the females’ features and a lovely interplay of pastels against darker tones.

14. John Ennis

John Ennis utilizes a “Disney Princess” method of painting, as his human images are beautiful but unrealistic. His covers have a fanciful, almost cartoon-like, fairy-tale quality. His work is based more on fantasy than romanticism.

Ennis played around with shades of light and contrasting hues, resulting in striking covers that made him a natural fit for Zebra.

If one notes the texture of the heroines’ hair, one can see individual strands and curls against blocks of solid color.

Like Franco Accornero, John Ennis was an early innovator of digital artwork.

15. Franco Accornero

Franco Accornero, also known as “Franco,” pioneered computerized art design. Due to his fascination with the capabilities of technology, Franco always pushed boundaries.

Before he transitioned to digital artwork in the 1990s, Franco worked primarily in oils.

As an independent freelance artist, he was responsible for all cover design elements, from setting up the scene to models, costumes, and props. He arranged various poses with different lighting arrangements.

His fine director’s eye created a dramatic and flattering balance of light and shadow.

Franco would use a wind machine in the photo sessions to get that flowing hair look.

16. Renato Aime

Renato Aime worked primarily in oils in addition to other mediums. He frequently designed covers for Dorchester and Kensington, two publishing houses that hired artists with an eye for the outlandish.

Aime captured the curvaceous female forms in contrast against the more rigid muscles of the males in a most pleasing way.

While Aime’s technique is recognizable as his own, it does bear some resemblance to his fellow Italian illustrators. One can see similarities to the covers of Pino Daeni and Franceso Accornero. Note the blending of colors and the identifiable strokes.

17. Melissa Duillo-Gallo

Melissa Duillo-Gallo, daughter of artists John and Elaine Duillo, was influenced by both her parents, her mother’s romance covers in particular.

Elaine’s work is titillating and highly elaborate. Melissa’s art tends to the sweeter side with more playful emotions. Duillo-Gallo applied flamboyantly bright colors, exemplifying the feel of the 1980s and 1980s.

After she married, Melissa signed her covers as Gallo, not Duillo. Unlike her mother, she usually placed her signature away from the bodies.

Melissa also used less eyeshadow than her mother did, which is saying something!

18. Gregg Gulbronson

Gregg Gulbronson utilized a distinctive approach, making his covers both breathtaking and easy to recognize. Romance, sexuality, fantasy, and reality all meld together in Gulbronson’s art.

Gulbronson used spraying/airbrushing techniques, which made for a striking and individualized look.

Enveloped in a romantic haze, the couples in clinches are surrounded by a dreamy ambiance. The figures seem to glow as the light plays against their hair, skin, and clothes.

19. Ray Kursar

Ray Kursar was yet another artist with a noticeable style. His paintings look more like drawings. Kursar worked with multiple mediums to create his illustrations, such as pastels and watercolors.

He employed various elements to make his covers stand out: emphasis on bright colors, flowers, animals, and fabrics.

Hair is constantly flowing in the wind, while the locks of waves and curls are well-defined.

20. James Griffin

James Griffin‘s covers from the 1980s and 1990s are quite distinct from his 21st-century ones, even though both periods are stunning.

The late-era clinches are made digitally and approach hyperrealism.

Griffin’s illustrations of the “classic” era are more dramatic, with windswept hair and passionate embraces. The couples are shown leaning back or lying down, rarely standing straight up.

His graceful aesthetic resulted in book covers that emotionally resonated with the romance reader.

21. Charles Geer

Charles Geer might be known to readers of children’s books published from the 1960s to the 1980s–two of which he wrote himself.

Geer’s style is so distinct. There is much going on in his images, whether sketches or paintings.

His attention to the tiniest of subjects amazes the eye. He used uniform brush strokes to create spectacular backgrounds, intricate curls in the hair, or elaborate textures in clothing. The bright pigments twinkle like stars against their darker settings.

Geer’s scenes appear dream-like but are far more memorable.

Final Thoughts on Cover Artists

Sweet Savage Flame believes it’s essential to keep the memory of these skilled cover illustrators and their works alive.

Hopefully, by familiarizing yourself with these artists’ techniques, you’ll quickly identify their covers on sight. No more having to confirm with a signature!

Your Opinion

Do you think this a fair compilation of some best romance cover artists? Who are your favorite old-school illustrators?

Is there an artist you think we should have placed on this list but missing? What are your thoughts on painted versus digital cover art?

Please drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance!

lone star surrender

Historical Romance Review: Lone Star Surrender by Carol Finch

historical romance review
Lone Star Surrender by Carol Finch
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Lovegram
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Western Romance
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Lone Star Surrender by Carol Finch

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Lone Star Surrender by Carol Finch, a standalone Zebra historical romance.

The Plot

Part 1 of Lone Star Surrender

Lone Star Surrender starts in Texas, circa 1885. Tara Winslow, the heroine, has come southwest from St. Louis to spend the summer with her father, Terrance, a newspaper publisher. She hasn’t seen him in three years.

Tara had been living in St. Louis with her grandfather, Ryan O’Donnovan, a wealthy businessman, and her mother, Libby. Terrance and Libby are separated, in large part because of her inability (or unwillingness) to stand up to her father. Tara is also engaged, unhappily, to Joseph Rutherford, one of Ryan’s business associates.

On Tara’s first day in Texas, she witnesses a murder, and is rescued by Sloane Prescott.

She meets Sloane again at the home of her friend, Julia Russel, the daughter of Merrick Russel, Sloane’s “boss.”

Sloane works for Russel as his head wrangler at Russel’s ranch, the Diamond R. Sloane isn’t working for Russel because he needs to. He has other reasons for working there: to expose Merrick as a criminal. He was also hired by Ryan and Joseph, who are investors in the Diamond R and are concerned with illegal activities they believe Merrick is involved in.

Julia wants Tara to work with Sloane to teach him manners so Julia can invite him to a dance. Unbeknownst to Julia, Tara and Sloane have a raging attraction to each other and will become lovers.

As time goes on, Tara discovers Sloane’s secrets, they marry–after she gets into trouble–and she finds out a secret he doesn’t know.

Merrick tries to kill Tara, and nearly succeeds, but she survives. Merrick later dies trying to flee Sloane after Merrick confesses his misdeeds.

Part 2 of Lone Star Surrender

After Merrick’s death, Tara thinks she and Sloane will have a clear path to happiness. She would be wrong.

Ryan and Joseph show up in Texas and forcibly take her back to St. Louis, where Ryan plans to marry her off to Joseph.

Upon hearing of her abduction, Sloane and Terrance head for St. Louis. Sloane goes to give his report and get Tara back, and Terrance to try to reconcile with Libby. Both Sloane and Terrance succeed in their endeavors to reunite with their loves.

Although, Sloane faces some token resistance from Joseph, who shows his true colors: yellow. To put it another way, Sloane was more of a man when he was born than Joseph is now.

In the end, Tara and Sloane, with Libby and Terrance–and Ryan–decide to go to Texas. The two couples have their Happily Ever After.

The Upside

When she writes under the names Carol Finch and Gina Robins, Connie Feddersen has a template she uses for her books. That template: feisty, spirited heroines, bad-boys-but-good-men heroes, and lots of humor. All of these are on display in Lone Star Surrender.

Tara and Sloane are a very well-matched couple. Their chemistry jumps off the pages and sizzles throughout the book. They are a likeable pair and the story is well-plotted and engaging. The romantic suspense element is strong, and there is a twist at the end of that part of the book.

Ms. Finch goes into her characters’ emotions and gives both of them free rein to be who they are.

I never felt as if I was reading a book; I felt like I was watching their lives in front of me, and those are the kind of books I really enjoy.

I also like the way Ms. Finch uses humor in her books. While Lone Star Surrender isn’t as funny as Beloved Betrayal–which was hilarious–there are a lot of funny moments here, especially toward the end.

Way too many romance novels have an ultra-serious tone to them. It’s a romance novel, authors! Humor is a much-underutilized feature in romance novels.

The Downside

If I had to nitpick, it would be that Ms. Finch tends to be a little hero and heroine heavy in her writing. Meaning she focuses almost entirely on her main characters.

The supporting cast in her books serves two purposes: to move storylines along and to act as foils for the protagonists. I find it nice sometimes when supporting characters have scenes when the hero and heroine aren’t in them.

Sex

Ms. Finch’s love scenes focus more on the feelings of the act than the esoterics of it. There are lots of purple prose and spiritual New Age writing about the deed.

Violence

Although people draw guns in the book, no one fires them. There are several scenes of assault and battery. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line on The Book

Readers who like humor and romance with high-spirited heroines and strong heroes will find lots to like in Carol Finch’s Lone Star Surrender.

5 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
4.5
Writing
5
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.8

Synopsis

THE STILL OF THE NIGHT
When the rugged cowboy found a gorgeous, unconscious woman and her dead companion along a Texas dirt road, he knew he had to try everything to save the unlucky lady. He spirited her off to his mountain shack, gave her a potion to deaden the pain, and slashed away her bloody bodice to expose the wound. But when the virile horseman saw only her creamy, flawless flesh, he realized the blood was not hers — and that the vulnerable female needed saving only from himself!

THE HEAT OF THE DAY
When golden-haired Tara Winslow awoke in he father’s canyon retreat, she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there. What was even more baffling were the sensual dreams, that plagued her every waking moment. As she fantasized a muscular Texas lover showing her the myriad mysteries of pleasure, the innocent adventuress realized it was too vivid to not be true! Now that she knew she’d been with the only man who could win her heart, the determined beauty vowed he’d track him down and enslave him forever with the wild rapture of her Lone Star Surrender.

Lonestar Surrender by Carol Finch

tender savage phoebe conn

Historical Romance Review: Tender Savage by Phoebe Conn

tender savage phoebe conn
Tender Savage by Phoebe Conn
Rating: three-stars
Published: 1989
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Lovegram
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Western Romance, Native American Romance
Pages: 480
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon


Historical Romance Review: Tender Savage by Phoebe Conn

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Tender Savage, a standalone Zebra Lovegram by Phoebe Conn.

Tender Savage starts in Wilmington, Delaware, in June 1862. The book spans from June 1862 to September 1863 during the American Civil War.

The Plot

Part One of Tender Savage

The book begins with Erica Hanson and Mark Randall kissing passionately. The night won’t end happily for either, unfortunately. Mark and Erica’s father, Lars, a physician, are going to leave the next day to join the Union army.

Erica is being sent to New Ulm, Minnesota. She is to live with Lars’ sister, Britta, and her husband, Karl Ludwig, who owns a store there. However, Erica wants to marry Mark–or at least become his lover–before leaving for war. Mark refuses. This is the source of the conflict between them.

When Erica arrives in New Ulm, she meets Viper, a half-Lakota, half-white Indian. They share kisses and are attracted to each other.

Things look bleak as Viper and his fellow Lakota will soon be at war with the white citizens of New Ulm after promises from the government fail to materialize. During the uprising, Viper kidnaps Erica. He does so for two reasons. One is to keep her from being killed, and two, because he’s hot for her. It’s not so bad, as she is also hot for him. Erica and Viper become lovers and are married in the Lakota tradition.

Soon, however, hardships emerge. Viper’s aunt, plus an evil-other woman who is in lust with him, causes problems for Erica.

Part Two of Tender Savage

An even bigger problem will soon present itself in the form of Mark. He arranges a transfer to Minnesota to find Erica and marry her. Mark arrives in Minnesota, finds Erica with Viper, and arrests him. Viper must stand trial in a military tribunal, where he is tried and convicted.

After this, Viper asks Mark to marry Erica, which Mark agrees to. Erica and Mark marry, and he is sent back to Wilmington to rejoin the Union Army. Happiness and sadness soon follow as Erica discovers she is pregnant with Viper’s child. Meanwhile, Mark is seriously injured during the war, gets blinded, and becomes an invalid who needs constant care.

Back in Minnesota, Viper’s conviction is vacated. He leaves the state heading to Delaware to find Erica. Adopting the name “Etienne Bouchard” (his French grandfather’s name), Viper finagles his way into becoming Mark’s companion, which severely irritates Erica.

Soon after “Etienne’s” arrival, Erica gives birth to a son who looks exactly like Etienne. This creates a rift between Erica and Etienne on one side and Lars and Sarah Randall–Mark’s sister–, on the other. Poor, hapless Mark doesn’t know he’s not the child’s father.

In the end, Mark conveniently passes away. Erica and Viper go back to Minnesota–to a different part of the state. Lars and Sarah marry, and both couples have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

The backdrop of Tender Savage is the Minnesota Sioux Uprising of 1862, an actual occurrence. Mrs. Conn does a fairly good job melding her fictional characters with real people and events.

On some levels, Tender Savage tries to be like Nancy Henderson (Nan) Ryan’s excellent romance, Kathleen’s Surrender. Like that book, Tender Savage takes place in part during the Civil War and features a love triangle. That, however, is where the similarities end.

Downside

Mrs. Ryan had the ability to make me, as a reader, care about her characters and feel their emotions. Mrs. Conn–although she tries–sadlyTender Savage does not.

Tender Savage is the seventh book I’ve read by Phoebe Conn. Like the other six, Tender Savage lacks both emotional depth and character development.

I also had issues with the heroine and hero. Erica checks off the basic romance heroine boxes: she’s beautiful, young, sexy, and has a great body, but… That’s it. There really is no substance to her.

Viper is worse. Mrs. Conn would have been better served to name him “Etienne Bouchard” because Viper is basically a white Indian. Although she researched the uprising, it is clear that Mrs. Conn did none about the Lakota tribe.

There is almost nothing about Viper–besides living in a teepee and eating pemmican–that would identify him as a Native American. The only depth to his character is that we learn he has French ancestry.

There is very little romantic chemistry between Erica and Viper. The beginning of their relationship in no way indicates love; they are in lust with each other. Although Mrs. Conn tries at the end, she falls well short of creating the type of characters I can genuinely care about.

Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate that after he gained access to the Hanson home, Viper spent a great deal of time trying to have sex with Erica even though she was married to Mark.

I also didn’t buy the “Erica and Mark didn’t consummate their marriage; therefore, they weren’t legally married, and Viper’s actions were okay” excuse at the end of the book, either.

Sex

I will give Mrs. Conn credit for writing slightly better love scenes here than in her previous books, but that is damning with very faint praise.

Violence

Most of the violence takes place “off-screen.” However, there are “on-screen” scenes of assault and battery, and a slashing occurs.

Bottom Line On Tender Savage

There was the foundation for a good book in Tender Savage.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Conn was not the author to mine the gold that might have been there. Instead, the book ends up in “pewter territory.” 

3 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
3
Characters
2.5
Writing
3
Chemistry
3
Fun Factor
3
Cover
4
Overall: 3.1

Synopsis:

TOO FAST TO STOP
When innocent Erica Hansen fled to Minnesota to escape the Civil War’s horrors, she had no idea she was stepping right into the middle of an Indian uprising. And until a painted, whooping brave swept her onto his stallion, she never guessed how unsafe her new home really was. The curvaceous blonde struggled against her captor’s grip, but the farther they rode from civilization, the wilder her response to him became. The passionate beauty knew she should bite, scratch and kick the warrior, but before she could think of the consequences, Erica began to caress, kiss and embrace him!

TOO FAR TO RETURN
From the moment he beheld the golden-haired paleface, the Sioux fighter named Viper swore she’d never meet the white captives’ fate of torture and degradation. This was a woman created for the most ecstatic kinds of lovemaking … and the virile male would make sure he’d be the one to show her the myriad ways to enjoy pleasure. He promised himself he’d release her when the furor of the battle died down. But once the jet-haired Sioux trapped her in his arms, he realized a lifetime was too short to savor her ivory skin, to exult in her lavender scent, to take her time and again as her Tender Savage. 

TENDER SAVAGE by PHOEBE CONN
pirates wild embrace

Historical Romance Review: Pirate’s Wild Paradise by Kate Douglas

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

This review is of Pirate’s Wild Paradise a standalone Zebra romance from February 1989 by Kate Douglas.

The Plot

Part One of Pirate’s Wild Paradise

Pirate’s Wild Paradise starts in Port Royale, Jamaica, with the heroine James Allison Morgan–yes, that is her name, but hereafter she is known as Jamie–about to get married.

She won’t be wed, however, as her ceremony is interrupted by Francisco “Franco” Alonzo Montenegro DeCortega, our hero, and Jamie’s former lover.

We then flashback to how Jamie and Franco came to know each other.

Part Two of Pirate’s Wild Paradise

Jamie is the only child of notorious English pirate Captain Henry Morgan. One day, Captain Morgan attacks and sinks a ship with Franco on it. Henry plans to kill Franco, but Jamie stops him. Henry then decides to hold Franco for ransom.

As to how Jamie got the name James Allison, Henry decided that was what he was going to name his child, regardless of gender. We also learn about Jamie’s mother, Antoinette Duvalle, who was kidnapped and impregnated by Morgan; she later committed suicide.

After a drunken wager, Jamie and Franco become lovers. He leaves her, however, upon learning that his father, Carlos De Cortega, is dead. The DeCortega family consists of the late Carlos, mother Isabella, Franco, and his older brother, Lorenzo–who hates Franco–and two sisters, Maria and Teresa.

Franco goes to Spain to stop Lorenzo from destroying the family in many ways. Meanwhile, Morgan sends Jamie to England to attend a finishing school for ladies.

Part Three of Pirate’s Wild Paradise

The scene then shifts to London, where Jamie spends two years learning how to be a lady. While in London, Jamie is told by Henry–now Sir Henry and Governor of Jamaica–that Franco returned to Jamaica and never asked about her, and meets Peter Alexeivitch, a.k.a. Russian Tsar, Peter the Great. Peter offers Jamie marriage. She refuses!

Jamie then returns with Henry to Jamaica.

Back in Jamaica, we meet up with Franco again. After he was released from Morgan’s captivity, he went to Spain to confront Lorenzo. It didn’t go well for Franco. With no money and no way to fight Lorenzo’s power, Franco was forced to become what he didn’t want to be: a pirate.

He still has plans to defeat Lorenzo, but he has to balance that with having Jamie back in his life, as they reunite when she returns to Jamaica.

Jamie also gains an uncle, as she meets Antoinette’s brother, Bertram, for the first time.

Franco, Jamie, and Bertrand then make their way to Europe–France and Spain to be specific–to help Franco settle his family affairs and help his revenge against Lorenzo. The latter won’t happen, however, as Lorenzo passes shortly after Franco’s arrival. He was gravely ill when Franco got to Spain.

After seeing to his sisters’ welfare and regaining his inheritance, Franco and Jamie plan to marry. Another roadblock is put in place, though as Morgan angrily refuses to bless their union. Franco kidnaps Jamie and returns her to Jamaica.

More problems soon follow as Morgan passes away and Jamie finds Franco in a compromising situation.

Part Four of Pirate’s Wild Paradise

After Henry’s death, Jamie has no money, thanks to a codicil in Henry’s will requiring her to marry someone he would approve of, thus giving the money to her future husband.

So she decides to follow in her sire and Franco’s footsteps and becomes a pirate. Her crew consists of some of Henry’s former crew and two surprising additions.

Later, Jamie’s ship, The Lady Morgan, captures a British naval ship, taking the crew hostage. She then blackmails the ship’s lieutenant, John Terry, into marrying her so she can get her inheritance. The marriage doesn’t happen, as Franco sees to that.

Jamie is arrested and will be hung for piracy, but Franco vouches for her.

In the end, twin catastrophes-an earthquake and a wave-destroy Port Royale, which is rebuilt. Jamie and Franco survive, she gives birth to a son, and they have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Readers who follow my reviews know I love heroines with spirit, who are strong and fight against the tide of patriarchal society. Jamie fits into that category.

She and Franco are fairly well-developed characters. Franco is a good hero; although he has some alpha characteristics, he is overall a decent man. I liked the fact that Ms. Douglas showed us both Franco and Jamie’s emotions.

Downside

I didn’t like the way Ms. Douglas handled the storyline involving Lorenzo. After Carlos died, Lorenzo:

  • Cheated Franco out of his inheritance.
  • Framed Franco on charges that, had he not left Spain, would have had him arrested and hanged.
  • Forced Maria and Teresa into marriages to an abuser and an adulterer, respectively.

I like when villains get their comeuppance, and that didn’t happen here. The ending of the book is too simplistic and kind of lame.

Sex

Multiple love scenes involving Jamie and Franco. However, the scenes are fairly mild and not very erotic.

Violence

Assault, battery, and one killing. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line On Pirate’s Wild Paradise

Pirate’s Wild Paradise is a good romance, with a fantastic female pirate as a heroine, but has too many issues to make it a great one.

3 Stars

*Book Trivia: The clinch image of Pirate’s Wild Paradise was used by Zebra as their new Lovegram logo design starting in 1990.

pirate's wild paradise kate douglas zebra

Synopsis:

Unexpected Surrender
Daughter of the infamous Henry Morgan, beautiful Jamie Morgan could hold her own against any pirate on the high seas…except Franco DeCortega. The handosme Spaniard bested her with his saber, then spared her life at the risk of his own. His compassion unsettled her; the desire in his dark eyes intrigued her. But Jamie had treasured her independence too long to surrender it in the heat of passion. Though she would yield to the dizzying sensations he aroused in her innocent flesh, she swore she’d never give him her heart!

Inevitable Conquest
Franco DeCortega was enthralled by the spirtied vixen who now held him captive, body and soul. Her violet eyes sparkled with mischief and daring; her ebony tresses danced about her creamy shoulders as she frolicked in the surf. It would take more than sweet promises to tame this tempetuous beauty..but Franco knew exactly how to make her his. With soul-searing kisses and masterful caresses he would tempt her with the ecstasy that awaited them both in a seductive unforgettable…Pirates Wild Paradise!

PIRATES WILD PARADISE by KATE DOUGLAS

Historical Romance Review: The Silver Link by Patricia Potter

Synopsis:

Why would her heart not listen to reason?

Antonia Ramirez knew that the tall, blond American was not to be trusted. Hadn’t it been American soldiers who had killed her mother and left her father a cripple? Yet Tristan Hampton had awakened something deep inside her that would not be denied.

Since the moment he’d first laid eyes on Antonia, Tris Hampton had been lost. He was haunted by her dark beauty. She made him feel he’d finally found the completeness he’d spent a lifetime searching for. But her father clearly hated him, and someone wanted to see him dead. Of Antonia’s love, he was certain. The question of her loyalty was still to be answered.

THE SILVER LINK by PATRICIA POTTER

SPOILER FREE REVIEW 😊

The Book

Patricia Potter creates a wonderful Latina heroine in Antonia Ramirez in her Harlequin Historical The Silver Link. She falls in love with the Anglo-American Tristan Hampton. The two are from different worlds. Despite the great risks in front of them, they are united by a love stronger than any bond. As such, they share a link that never can be severed.

The Plot

Tristan Hampton is a military man from Virginia. He is on a mission to oversee Albuquerque’s stable transition from Mexican rule to American governance.

Antonia Ramirez is a beauty he must have. She is descended from noble, land-owning Spanish lineage. Her New Mexican roots go back generations. Her family–and more importantly her would-be husband, Ramon–are hostile to Tris, the Yanqui soldier.

When Antonia and Tristan first meet, it’s instant love. There will be many obstacles ahead before they can be together if that happens.

This was one of the first Harlequin Historicals I read. The Silver Link was a sweeping epic of two people from different societies. I enjoyed how Tris and Tonia would always find times to meet in secret. They would return to their mesa time again to share their passion.

Forbidden love is at its best here.

Here is a word of warning for those who dislike violence. The Silver Link is also quite gruesome and bloody. Tristan is shot, beaten, and has to save Antonia numerous times from attempted rape.

latina heroine
French Edition of The Silver Link

The Silver Link by Patricia Potter is packed with thrilling action. It’s also an outstanding love story.

Antonia is a rare Latina heroine, for the time. Her proud and resilient nature made her stand out. Tristan is an equally strong American hero. The Mexican-American War era is an intriguing period of transition and is a remarkable setting. Overall, it’s a hard book to forget.

4 Stars

dakota flame sonya t pelton zebra

Historical Romance Review: Dakota Flame by Sonya T. Pelton

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book – Dakota Flame

This review is of Dakota Flame, a standalone novel from July 1989 by Sonya T. Pelton. (Published by Zebra/Kensington).

The Plot

Part 1: Savage Journey

Dakota Flame begins in Mankato, Minnesota, in December 1862. Thirty-eight Lakota braves are executed for their attack on a white settlement. Among them is a brave named Red Hawk.

Later, his spirit pouch ends up with Audrey Tina (Audrina) Harris, 20, the heroine of the book. Audrina has red hair, green eyes, and honey-gold skin. The reason Audrina receives the pouch: unbeknownst to her, Audrina is half-Lakota.

Soon after getting the pouch, Audrina is nearly raped by soldier Joe Powell. She is saved from this indignity by Wild Hawk, the hero of the book. Wild Hawk has black hair and bronzed skin. Wild Hawk is chief to his band of Lakota, and Red Hawk’s son.

He wants the pouch, and as time goes on, he also wants Audrina. Wild Hawk kidnaps Audrina, and later her Aunt Katherine and Sadie Peterson, another white woman, and takes them to his village. As they travel, Audrina begins developing romantic feelings for Wild Hawk, as he does for her.

The trip is not entirely pleasant; two other Lakotas, a brave, Left Hand, and his sister, Tawena, hate all whites and have evil plans for the white women.

Part II: Precious Fire

Not everyone will make it to Wild Hawk’s village. Katherine is killed by Left Hand. Later, Audrina and Wild Hawk become lovers. While this is going on, Sadie begins having romantic feelings toward Wild Hawk’s younger cousin, Fox Dreamer.

Part III: Savage Angel

As they make their way to Wild Hawk’s home village, Audrina finds herself in a dilemma: on the one hand, she’s falling in love with Wild Hawk; on the other, she wants to live a white person’s life. Meanwhile, Left Hand and Tawena have joined up with Powell to get Audrina and Sadie. Later, LeftHand rapes Sadie, and Powell semi-abducts Audrina (she went willingly with Powell after he lied to her about her father appearing).

Part IV: Lost Embrace

Upon learning of Audrina’s departure, Wild Hawk comes to the realization that he does, in fact, love her, and sets out to find her. Powell is killed, but this doesn’t free Audrina; instead, she becomes the captive of Left Hand.

In the end, the following things occur: Left Hand, Powell, and Tawena are all killed. Wild Hawk finds and rescues Audrina, they reconcile their differences and acknowledge that they love each other. Audrina does meet her father, Frank Harris, who is also half-Indian. Audrina and Wild Hawk have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Dakota Flame is the best book I’ve read by Ms. Pelton so far (out of the 7 I’ve read. More on that later). Audrina is a fairly likable character. The love scenes are good for a mainstream historical romance novel from 1989.

Downside

Dakota Flame contains two tropes I really dislike, maybe to the point of hating. Those tropes are captor/captive and Simpering Sara.

Wild Hawk kidnaps Audrina, and during the course of the book, he is cruel at times to her. Despite this, Audrina is hot for his form and is willing to forgive his behavior toward her.

Although I liked Audrina, she is at times royally stupid, an example of this is her going with Powell, even though he nearly raped her earlier because he’s white. Audrina’s thinking-or not thinking: “Hey, he’s white. Even though he nearly raped me, he can be trusted because, you know, he’s white!”

She is also a bit whiny, spending much of the book yearning for the white world yet acknowledging she’s in love with a man who can’t live there. There is no character depth or development.

The book is told from the following perspectives: Audrina. Katherine. Powell. Sadie. Tawena. Left Hand. Who’s missing from this list? Wild Hawk. Only in the last third of the book does Ms. Pelton allows Wild Hawk to speak in his own voice and express his own thoughts. The books I like best are those where both the hero and heroine get equal or near equal time to do this.

Sex

As mentioned, the love scenes are quite good for a mainstream historical romance novel from 1989. The scenes in Dakota Flame don’t approach erotica, but they are on par with the love scenes from Cassie Edwards’ many Native American romances.

Violence

Assault, attempted rape, battery, and killings all take place here. The rape scene is mildly graphic.

Bottom Line on Dakota Flame

I mentioned earlier that Dakota Flame is my favorite book authored by Ms. Pelton. Considering that she has written such “classics” as Passion’s Paradise, that’s not exactly a high bar to get over. It is also a milestone, as Dakota Flame is the first book by Ms. Pelton to get more than a 2-star rating from me, but just barely.

***

Tropes: American Upper Midwest. Captor/captive. Half -Native-American Heroine. Historical Romance. Native American Hero.

Location: Mankato, Minnesota. South Dakota.

Time Frame: Late 1862-1863.

2.52 Stars


Synopsis:

Because enchantingly lovely Audrina Harris knew that she was destined to play a major role in the tribal life of the Dakota people, it came as no surprise when Chief Wild Hawk rode into the Minnesota River Valley town and captured her, swinging her up behind him on his powerful black stallion.

Audrina felt the sharp stirring of rapture the moment her eyes met his, but the feisty, independent young beauty was determined not to be his captive. She would fulfill her destiny freely, or not at all. But the farther westward they traveled, the more she became a slave to Wild Hawk’s searing kisses and the sweet strength of his powerful bronze arms. And the more she realized how easy it would be to leave the white world behind for a lifetime of scorching love with her passionate Indian warrior.

BEGUILED INTO LOVE
Deeply saddened and angered by his father’s death at the white man’s hands, all Chief Wild Hawk wanted was to lead his tribe to peace and to obey the call of his dream vision: to capture the beautiful young girl who possessed the sacred talisman of the Dakota people. But Audrina Harris proved to be more than the paleface slave he’d bargained for. She had spirit and fire and a mind of her own–and the loveliest body he had ever seen.

When his lips first touched her luscious flesh, he knew that it was more than tribal destiny and a length of frayed rope that bound her to him. He knew he could not live without her warm breath in his ear, the fiery touch of her soft curves beneath his hands, and the raging passion that soon ignited into a fierce DAKOTA FLAME.

DAKOTA FLAME by SONYA T. PELTON
captive angel pino

Historical Romance Review: Captive Angel by Deana James

historical romance review
Captive Angel by Deana James
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1988
Illustrator: Pino
Imprint or Line: Zebra Historical
Book Series: Gillard-Macpherson #1
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 511
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Captive Angel by Deana James

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

The cover of Deana JamesCaptive Angel includes a quote from Johanna Lindsey that states this book is: “Delightfully different, emotionally involving, and impossible to put down.”

That is pure truth.

An Unusual Romance

How do I evaluate this amazing journey through a super-resilient woman’s incredible 19th-century life?

I must tell it all, so this review is pure spoilers.

By all rights, Deana James’ Captive Angel is the kind of romance I should toss into a blazing fire while gleefully cheering: “Burn, book, burn! Bad, bad book!”

Perhaps it helped that I knew exactly what I was getting into before I started. Plus, having previously a few of James’ books, I knew Captive Angel couldn’t be that horrible. James was one of the finest authors to have come out of Kensington’s Zebra imprint.

The Set-Up and the Characters

Captive Angel surpassed my expectations. It stars one of the greatest romance heroines ever, paired with one of the most piggish, most oblivious, POS heroes I’ve ever come across in an old-school historical (other than Regan Van Der Rhys from Fern Michaels‘ Captive Series.

Hunter Gillard’s not a crazed protagonist like Sean Culhane (Stormfire) or Duke Domenico (The Silver Devil) because he’s not super-obsessed over his woman (until the middle-end). He’s just a selfish prick. It’s all about him.

On one hand, we have a Caroline, who’s in my “Greatest Heroine” hall of fame, while the hero is relegated to the “Jerky Pig” hall of shame. That list is reserved for only the most porcine of Romancelandia’s leading men.

Caroline, or Fancy as she prefers, has a fantastic character arc. She starts down in the dumps: “Woe is me, I’m depressed, mourning for my dead child. I’m fat, and my husband doesn’t love me anymore. Sure, he’ll bang me something fierce, but it’s not only me who’s getting his love!”

You see, Hunter is a real hound dog.

The Plot

Caroline and Hunter Gillard have been married for ten years. Their baby daughter died some years earlier. They still have a young son, but Caroline’s fallen into a deep depression, as she cannot have any more children.

Naturally, she’s let herself go. Caroline has gained a few (or more) pounds. Even so, her lusty husband doesn’t mind giving her a good porking. Hunter does hate her crying, how she wallows in self-pity, and oh, her refusal to worship him and treat him like the king he is.

So Hunter has other things on his mind. He’s a seaman by nature and despises being tied to his wife’s plantation, “England’s Fancy” with the responsibilities it entails. He loathes how mopey Fancy is. Often he leaves for long instances.

Caroline’s no longer the same beautiful woman who caught Hunter’s eye at a ball. She’s dumpy and fat now, even if that doesn’t stop Hunter from plowing her furrows every so often.

Life for Fancy isn’t great and it’s about to get worse.

Her plantation is not producing as it should, despite her husband providing fertilizer, as he’s nothing but excrement.

For a horrible truth comes to light. Hunter has many lovers, including one young miss he’s especially keen on. Worse yet, the mistress is pregnant!

Hunter resolves he’s had enough of Fancy. He decides to sail to Europe with his no-longer-a-virgin of a paramour. Even crueler, he takes his and Fancy’s son, Alex, with them.

As for Caroline? Well, kiddo, it’s been fun, but see ya!

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better

One final blow is to come. Hunter leaves Fancy penniless, their bank accounts wiped empty. All that Fancy has is her run-down plantation.

If not for Holy Dulcibella, the servant who raised her from infancy, Caroline would be alone in the world.

There is also her plantation’s overseer, to help. Fancy should have had a fling with him. But she had no mind for men, just for “England’s Fancy.” With her overseer & Dulcibella, Caroline engages in back-breaking labor to keep her plantation up and running.

At long last, when it seems Caroline’s hard work will bring a good harvest, a terrible storm comes. It wipes out the crops, utterly ruining her.

Caroline can fall no lower. Does give up? No! She is determined to make her way, somehow.

For the first time in Caroline’s life, she has nothing. Like Janis Joplin sang (or was it Kris Kristofferson?) “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Fancy is free.

The frightened, pampered child-woman who had been deserted by her husband ten months ago was gone forever. In her place stood a self-confident, independet creature who would not hesitate to dare the devil.

A Light in The Darkness

Certain revelations come to light. Holy Dulcibella is not a slave but a free servant. She discloses to Fancy that she was Fancy’s grandfather’s lover and secret wife.

He was a ship captain who sailed the seas like Hunter. Dulcibella was a princess of Madagascar. They fell in love even though he had a wife and family in America. Dulcibella willingly gave up her royal life to live with her man as a second-best.

This shocks Fancy to her core.

It was refreshing that Deana James wrote Captive Angel with a sense of historical authenticity. It sounds odd, but I appreciated that Fancy Caroline was uncomfortable knowing this truth. Her prejudices made her real, not some manufactured idea of perfection.

Even though Holy Dulcibella was the only person who had Caroline’s back from day #1, who’d stuck with her through the worst, Caroline still saw Dulcibella as an “other.” Dulcieblla was “inferior” because of her race and station. Caroline was a real person of her time, filled with preconceptions.

Over time Caroline does get over it. Through their shared travails she sees Dulcibella not as a slave or servant but as family, calling her “grandmother.”

It takes time to unfold. Their relationship is one of genuine, selfless love. The most honest connection Caroline has with a person is not with her wayward husband, but with this great friend.

The Creep “Hero” Returns

Dulibella tells her about her grandfather’s secret treasure hidden off the coast of Africa. Caroline determines to find it.

She obtains a ship, captain, and crew who will sail with her across the world in search of the gold.

Ultimately, Hunter hears that Caroline is risking her life for a foolish idea of an impossible treasure. Without a care for her, he abandons his pregnant mistress to save his wife.

But Caroline doesn’t need saving! In fact, Hunter’s the one who gets captured, and she must rescue him. In the end, she lets Hunter think he saves her, to please his ego. She understands her husband’s nature now.

Hunter has never seen Caroline like this before, so confident in herself. It excites him to see this new woman of adventure. With the other woman long out of his mind, he attempts to seduce his wife.

As Caroline never stopped desiring Hunter, she engages with him eagerly. The makeup sex is steamier than ever before. The two reunite, promising to love one another forever.

The Thrilling Conclusion

And as for the treasure? Why it was lost in the seas, never to be found!

Hunter’s cast-off mistress gives birth. She goes away and leaves her baby with Hunter, to be raised by him and Caroline.

Does Hunter deserve Caroline? No freaking way!

Be happy that the heroine is happy. She loves her husband. When the book ends Hunter promises to be on his best behavior. He still will go out to sea once every so often while Caroline raises her son and her husband’s lovechild as their own.

She will remain home and tend to their plantation. Hunter will be a good boy from here on out. He enjoys plowing Fancy’s fields now a lot more now than he ever did before.

However, Fancy’s no dummy. Once that trust is lost, it can never wholly be regained, no matter how much love exists. Fancy is determined her love will last a lifetime.

Nevertheless, she’ll keep some secrets to herself…

Namely, that the treasure wasn’t a legend and it wasn’t lost. Caroline sneakily hid it from Hunter. Maybe she’ll let him know about it. Maybe not.

In the end, Caroline gets it all.

Final Analysis of Captive Angel

Why did I love Captive Angel? It is not really a romance, or more correctly, it’s more than just romance. It’s women’s fiction, an action-adventure saga, historical fiction, and a character study, too.

You may read it and hate it and I wouldn’t blame anyone for that. This is a romance novel, so one expects certain rules in romance. Here, Deana James broke the rules. Despite me being a stickler for them, James turned the tables to create a story I loved. I was drawn to it like a cat to a crinkly toy ball covered in catnip.

Deana James’ Captive Angel was an emotional, turbulent read with a heroine whose identity was forged in fire.

Maybe her love story is not an all-time great. But her life story was.

Rating Report Card
Plot
5
Characters
5
Writing
5
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
5
Cover
4.5
Overall: 4.8

Synopsis:

SHE SWORE TO STAY WED
Abandoned, penniless, and suddenly responsible for the biggest tobacco plantation in Colleton County, distraught Caroline Gillard had no time to dissolve into tears. The previously pampered, indulged mistress of the South Carolina estate had to learn fast how to manage her workers, her money — and her broken heart. By day the willowy redhead labored to exhaustion beside her slaves … but each night left her restless with longing for her wayward mate. Soon, though, her misery gave way to anger, and the determined woman knew that somehow she’d make him regret his betrayal until he begged her to take him back!

HE VOWED TO BE FREE
Handsome Hunter Gillard had been born to ride the everchanging sea, not to harvest and plant year in and year out. Tired of his commitments, the virile, hot-tempered captain meant to call his destiny his own like he had before he’d met his tantalizing Caroline. When his adventure was over, maybe he’d return to his patient, understanding wife. But when he learned she’d left him for parts unknown, the furious philanderer promised he’d track her down to teach her how to be Hunter’s loyal partner, his unquestioning concubine, his forgiving… Captive Angel.

CAPTIVE ANGEL by DEANA JAMES
moon rider

Covers of the Week #42

Theme: Covers With Dresses Opened at the Back

One of the amusing aspects about clinch poses is that no matter who the artist is, no matter the publishing house or the author, there are only so many variations the couple can engage in, that some poses become ubiquitous. One of my favorite mainstays of cover art is when…well when a lady loses her stays!

Personally, I find it alluring when a gown is draping off a lady’s back as opposed to other more revealing shots. The sight of bare skin and delicates bones down to the waist is more seductive and mysterious rather than seeing heaving breasts front and center. What say you?

This Covers of the Week for Monday, January 24, 2022, to Sunday, January 30 displays pretty historical romance covers with couples in clinch poses and heroines losing their tops while having a grand ole time of it.

silver angel johanna lindsey books

Covers of the Week #40

Theme: Desert and Harem Covers

This week’s theme takes us to the Middle East for showing off some glorious harem and desert romance covers.

There’s something alluring about the African Sahara and Arabian deserts. They hold the allure of mystery and romance. The endless miles of sand, the ever-shifting dunes. A sheik takes a beautiful heroine captive and takes her to an oasis.

Whether it be a fantasy of being swept away by the leader of a caravan tribe or taken into a sheik’s private harem of one, passionate clinch covers exist for them all.

For the week of Monday, January 10, 2022, to Sunday, January 16, 2022, our latest Covers of the Week highlights the covers of four desert and harem romances set in the Middle East.

Middle Eastern Covers (from Left to Right, Top to Bottom):

Desert Heat, Evelyn Rogers, Zebra, 1993, Robert Sabin cover art;
Harem, Diane Carey, Signet, 1986, Pino cover art;
Silver Angel, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1988, Elaine Duillo cover art;
Casablanca Intrigue, Clarissa Ross, Warner, 1979, H. Tom Hall cover art

pino at work

A Closer Look At Pino

pino daeni artist
Giuseppi Dangelico Daeni, aka Pino the artist

Pino Daeni

Giuseppi Dangelico Daeni is better known as Pino Daeni, or simply Pino. Pino Daeni was a romance novel illustrator. He was an icon who painted over 3,000 book covers that were pure works of art in only 15-20 years .He spent almost the last twenty years of his life working as a fine artist of great acclaim.

Pino’s childhood visual memories consisted of females left behind to keep the home fires burning. His mother, aunts, grandmothers, and cousins became a universe of attractive women in aprons.

Throughout the uncertain times of World War II, they maintained domestic tranquility. Pino would always cherish the feminine ideal. That appreciation shone through his paintings.

Pino created portraits that celebrated the beauty of women, children, and families. A talent in the tradition of his Italian forebears, Pino’s artwork was a bridge between classical romanticism and contemporary realism.

pino daeni
“Almost Ready,” Pino Daeni Artist

Pino, His Early Life

Pino was born in Bari, Italy, on November 8, 1939, to a large family with numerous children.

His first-grade teacher recognized his talents and advised his father to encourage Pino’s gifts. His father was initially skeptical of this recommendation but changed his mind when he saw his son’s artwork.

“When I was eight, my older brother would have to draw for school. My father would wake me up after preparing all the colored pencils, and tell me to draw a boat with a fisherman and a sunset or some other scene.”

PINO: THE MASTER ILLUSTARATOR, 2010

Throughout his early years, Pino would sketch in his school books. His older brothers and soccer teammates offered him 30 lire per drawing to help them with their high school design projects. Pino relished the earned income by doing something he loved.

He enrolled at the Art Institute of Bari in his late teens. At 21, armed with nothing but a few pencils, Pino left home to study at Milan’s Academy of Brera. There, he honed his skills by painting live nudes.

Soon Pino was drawing historical scenes for textbooks. Later he joined the staff of Fabbri, an established publishing firm where he illustrated history books and women’s magazines.

When Pino’s father died suddenly at 52, he moved his mother and five siblings to Milan. Pino was the sole supporter until his family could provide for themselves.

In 1970 Pino married Chiara. In 1971 their first child, Paola, was born.

pino at work
Pino at work

Early Career

Later that year, his contract with Fabbri expired. The enterprising artist made his first trip to the United States on a visitor’s visa. He spent three unsuccessful months in New York seeking a sponsor and employment. Upon his return to Milan, Pino and Chiara had their second child, Massimo.

From 1960 to 1979, his work was prominently displayed throughout Italy and Europe. He won several prizes and awards, and commissions to illustrate books for Italy’s largest publishers, Mondadori and Rizzoli.

Pino dreamed of being free of art directors and account executives. Their demands to paint their ideas rather than his own were a constant drain on his creative energy.

no sweeter paradise

He had grand ambitions, but familial responsibilities forced him to seek commercial work in a field where publishers were more interested in consistency than originality. His use of subliminal devices, color, composition, and detail pushed the envelope.

Pino had grown up with faded glories of renaissance art and architecture in Italy. He was also in tune with the energies of the new era. Despite his phenomenal success as one of the leading European illustrators of all time, Pino wanted to be closer to the dynamic art center of the world, New York.

He also wanted to release his art from the restrictions of others and be free to explore new avenues that had been opened by the abstract expressionists of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

pino daeni artist
Untitled Portrait of a Woman, Drawing w/ Charcoal on Paper, Pino Daeni artist

An Italian Comes to America

After visiting Manhattan and experiencing the freedom of the art scene there, Pino became acutely aware of the restrictions in Milan. The New York museums opened his eyes to America’s rich history of figure painting.

In 1978, Pino moved his family to New York. He was eager to partake in significant opportunities within a more unrestrictive environment. Although he had achieved acclaim in Europe, he was unknown in American circles. Pino spoke in broken English and owned only a bicycle for transportation. He had to take what jobs came his way.

“I needed $325 to pay the rent, so I went door to door to Manhattan galleries trying to sell some paintings. I stumbled upon a gallery with an Italian name and in broken English, asked if they work with Italian artists. The owner said he did but only offered $300 for the painting. So I left and walked 50 more blocks without success until I turned around and went back to him. By then, the owner offered to pay only $250. I took it.”

PINO: THE MASTER ILLUSTARATOR, 2010

Eventually, Pino was sponsored by the Borghi Gallery, which held several New York and Massachusetts shows.

Pino knew New York was not only the center of fine art but also the world publishing capital. It was where big deals were made and new concepts and original styles rewarded.

Pino, Cover Artist Extraordinaire

Accompanied by a friend as a translator, Pino began knocking on the doors of America’s top publishers. In 1980 Pino Daeni would receive his big break as a cover artist.

Zebra books were the first to hire him. Pino book covers were distinct from the usual clinches, as they would display a heroine in a solo pose with the couple embracing beneath.

love stone pino cover art
Love Stone, Deana James, Zebra, 1983

The success of his first covers for Zebra soon had Dell, Simon & Schuster, Bantam, Harlequin, Penguin eagerly seeking his distinctive style. That style would dominate the market and exert a profound influence on other artists’ work from 1980 to 1995.

Pino was the highest-paid illustrator in America during this period, with over 3,000 book covers, movie posters, and magazine illustrations to his credit.

Here is an early Pino book cover for Danielle Steel:

pino book cover art
Once in a Lifetime, Danielle Steel, Dell, 1982

Pino’s art graced the covers of many big-named talents in the romance genre: Kathleen E. WoodiwissRosemary RogersLaurie McBain, Christine Monson, Deana James, Shirl Henke, Sylvie F. Sommerfield, Janelle Taylor, Virginia Henley, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, and many, many others.

Like artist Harry Bennett and George H. Jones, Pino was one of the first artists to use a style of illustrating called the “wraparound.” He would paint a continued image around the cover that left space on the back for the description and the front for the title.

camberleigh pino daeni
Camberleigh, Evelyn Grey, Zebra, 1985
pino daeni art
Margaret Normanby, Josephine Edgar, Signet, 1984

My Opinion Of Pino’s Art

“An art director might say, ‘Pino, we need a mansion.’ We talk about the period, the mood. I try to put myself in the male’s shoes. It’s very easy for me. I’m good because I’m a romantic.”

PEOPLE MAGAZINE, 1996

I often hear readers of the romance genre comment on how cover art has improved over the years. Many say that modern covers are more mature and artistic. Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if people see reality through distinct lenses because my eyes don’t view it that way.

raven at sunrise pino book cover
Raven at Sunrise, Claudia McCormick, Diamond, 1991, Pino cover art

Yes, the digital artwork created by artists like Gregg Gulbronson, Alan Ayers, Chris Cocozza, Jon Paul Ferrera, James Griffin, and Victor Gadino looks incredible.

But for every master artist like the ones mentioned, dozens of Adobe Illustrator users create weird-looking or oversexualized covers. Some people complain the old clinch covers were embarrassing.

I find the headless torso covers of men with eight-pack abs far more egregious. There’s little appreciation for fine art in the age of the Kindles and iPhones.

The majority of covers today look crisp, overproduced, and impersonal. Unless an artist’s style is incredibly distinct, it isn’t easy to deduce which covers are made by whom. Pino’s brushstrokes, the curves of his feminine subjects, and facial expressions are uniquely recognizable.

He was as talented as any of the old greats: da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, or Titian. Romance aficionados should be honored such an artist is part of its history.

A Contemporary Master Painter

“Rockwell bridged the gap between illustration and fine art, and Pino did the same.”

DAVID GORMAN, PARK WEST GALLERY DIRECTOR

In 1992, the strain of tight deadlines became too much for Pino. He was ready to leave the world of illustration behind and return to his impressionist painting roots. After contacting a highly regarded gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, he was encouraged to send several paintings, which were well received.

His illustrations appeared in Hilton Head Island, SC, and Garden City, Long Island, NY. Pino made several appearances on major TV networks and was interviewed in national and international journals.

Pino daeni art
“By the Mirror“, Pino Daeni

As digital artwork became more widespread, Pino’s cover art output slowed down significantly. A classic at heart, he deplored the sterility of computer-generated images. By 1994, Pino was no longer just a book illustrator but a professional painter. He would spend the rest of his life living his dream as a world-renowned fine artist.

In 2001, Max, Pino’s son, began representing his father, despite his father’s initial reluctance. Max successfully grew his efforts into a profitable marketing company, helping his father expand beyond his regular gallery representation to include magazines, books, and limited-edition fine art prints.

Pino was a great success whose paintings broke the mold. Park West Gallery Director David Gorman compared Pino’s journey from illustrator to fine artist to the career of American painter Norman Rockwell.

Pino’s Death and Legacy

“His career had come full circle. As a young boy he dabbled in watercolors, switched to oils at 18 and never went back until he became sick with cancer. Amazing how life works like that.”

MAX DANGELICO

From the time he could first hold a pencil until his very last days, Pino remained an exemplary artist. He worked tirelessly with prodigious output.

Pino worked in oils and preferred to stand while painting. After being diagnosed with cancer and enduring 18 months of grueling chemotherapy treatments, the artist no longer had the strength to stand for long periods of time. Instead, he would rest on the couch to draw and paint with watercolors.

On May 25, 2010, Pino died at 70 due to cancer.

pino daeni art
A Time To Remember, Pino Daeni

He is survived by his family, including his son Max and his nephew Vittorio Dangelico, aka Vidan. Vidan was also a romance cover illustrator and is now a fine artist in a style after his uncle.

His work appears in art galleries worldwide, and his giclee prints sell into the thousands of dollars.

Through his art, the memory of Pino lives forever. Pino proved that commercial artwork need not be derivative and sterile but beautiful and worthy of admiration.

While, unfortunately, some people still harbor shame or express mockery for romance covers, Pino was one of the influential artists who elevated them to true artistry.

More than a mere illustrator, Pino is celebrated as a master painter of the 20th century.

Pino Romance Book Covers

midnight princess jo goodman

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Princess by Jo Goodman

Midnight Princess, Jo Goodman, Zebra, 1989, Pino cover art

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

4 1/2 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviewed by Blue Falcon

The Book, Characters & Set-Up

This review is of Midnight Princess, book #1 in the “Marshall Brothers” series by Jo Goodman, a pseudonym used by Joanne Dobrzanski. Published by Zebra/Kensington, November 1989, the book was later reissued as Her Defiant Heart. (This series connects to Ms. Goodman’s “Dennehy Sisters” series). This review is of the original print book.

Heroine: Jenny Holland, 24. Brown hair and eyes. Mystery woman.

Hero: Christian Marshall, 31. Copper hair, aquamarine eyes. Publisher, New York Chronicle newspaper.

Location: New York City, New York. December 1866-May 1867.

Tropes: Historical Romance. Mystery woman. Newspaper publisher. New York City.

The Plot

The book starts in New York City, December 1866. Christian Marshall, the hero, one of the series’ eponymous titular characters, and publisher of the New York Chronicle newspaper is at a hospital for people experiencing emotional distress. He’s watching one of the “patients,” a woman known as Jane Doe, being treated. He feels sympathy for her and decides to help her.

Later, she shows up at his home.

“Jane Doe” has a real name; it’s Jenny Holland, the heroine. As the book continues we learn more about the traumas she’s suffered in her life. We also learn about Christian’s trauma and that Jenny has three people who want her dead.

In the end, Christian rescues Jenny from a perilous situation. The villains trying to kill her are stopped. Christian gets a major—but very pleasant–Christmas surprise. Jenny and Christian marry and have their Happily Ever After.

Upside

Ms. Goodman is a licensed therapist, and this imbues her writing. Many of her heroes and heroines have significant trauma that they are trying to work through, and Jenny and Christian are in that category. This makes Midnight Princess an interesting, compelling book, and Jenny and Christian are interesting developed characters.

Downside

Even though I found the book compelling, I can’t say that I truly liked either Jenny or Christian. This is an issue I have with Ms. Goodman’s work. I find it interesting, but I can’t say I like her characters. The supporting characters only exist to advance Jenny and Christian.

Sex

Ms. Goodman writes good love scenes. They don’t get anywhere near erotica, but they do explore what the characters in the scenes are feeling and can be very emotional and romantic.

Violence

Assault, attempted rape, battery, sodomy, and murder all occur in the book. The violence is not graphic.

Bottom Line

Midnight Princess/ Her Defiant Heart is a very dark book and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However, readers who like books with solid character depth and interesting storylines may like it.

4.14 stars.

the game of love

Covers of the Week #32

Theme: Regency Romance

The Regency era is the most popular setting in historicals. The sub-genre ranges from classic, traditional romances to longer, more sensual ones. The time period evokes a sense of manners and wittiness.

We’ve reviewed but a few on this site, so to remedy that, let’s take a look at some of their dazzling covers.

The Covers

For the week of Monday, November 15, to Sunday, November 21, 2021, our theme for the covers of the week is Regency romances. Enjoy!

Covers from left to right, top to bottom:

  • Game of Love, Edith Layton, Signet, cover art, Pino
  • Rivals of Fortune, Jane Ashford, Warner, cover art Walter Popp
  • Escapade Marion Devon, Fawcett, cover art Elaine Gignilliat
  • The Madcap Marchioness, Amanda Scott, Signet, cover art Allan Kass

Crimson obsession

Historical Romance Review: Crimson Obsession by Deana James

Crimson Obsession, Deana James, Zebra, 1988, Pino cover art

VERY MILD SPOILERS 😉

3 1/2 Stars

Reviewed by Introvert Reader

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve read about half of the romances Deana James published and I must say Crimson Obsession is probably my least favorite of her works. It’s not a terrible romance, not at all. It simply pales in comparison to her other books. Due to my high expectations of James’ writing, Crimson Obsession was a bit of a disappointment, although if penned by another author, I daresay I might not have been so critical.

The Revenge Based Plot

It’s Victorian-era England and Cassandra MacDaermond is on a mission of revenge. She’s a beautiful red-haired orphan left penniless. Her father died after losing the family fortune by gambling. Cassandra blames Edward Sandron, owner of a gaming hall, for this. She’s determined to see Sandron pay for taking advantage of an elderly man. Cassandra disguises herself as an old, plump maid and gains employment in Sandron’s household.

Edward Sandron not only runs a gambling establishment, but he also is the head of a sex cult. He calls himself Baal and wears funky devil costumes. If that sounds to you like something you’d read in an Anne Stuart romance, that’s what I thought as well.

Stuart takes her work seriously, heavy on the angst, and without much humor. Her heroes are akin to caped, mustachio-twirling villains. They are forever telling the heroines how much they despise them and what wicked ruin they will bring upon the hapless females.

Thankfully, James doesn’t take this silliness anywhere as seriously as Stuart would. Edward Sandron runs his club with a sense of the ridiculous. He’s just running this gig as a side hustle to make money. Gambling and debauched orgies aren’t really his thing. He also writes salacious pornographic works to rake in the pounds. What Edward really wants to be is a respectable writer in the style of Charles Dickens.

Crimson Obsession shares another similarity with Anne Stuart’s books, as this contains a secondary romance, as Stuart’s works often do. A prostitute named Sally has her eyes on Sandron. However, Sandron’s editor, a porn peddler named Nash, has eyes on Sally. Their tug-and-pull love story is quite entertaining and unique.

Then there’s a hypocritical, morally-priggish OTT villain who makes for more ludicrous antics.

Cassandra is a seemingly plucky heroine, at first. She has a plan, but it doesn’t actually amount to much. And, of course, Edward eventually discovers his housemaid is not who she appeared to be. Once he discovers her true identity, Edward’s intent on proving he’s not the culprit Cassandra thinks he is. And besides, she’s attracted to him, and he’s attracted to her.

Final Analysis of Crimson Obsession

Cassandra and Edward’s romance was fine, but I thought the parallel romance between Nash and Sally was hot. They were a far more exciting couple than the central pair.

I prefer James’s medievals and American-set romances to her Victorian and Regencies, as they’re more grand-scale and action-packed. Overall, this is better than the average romance, but not one of James’ best books.

Paradise and More

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

historical romance review
Paradise and More by Shirl Henke
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Pino
Book Series: House of Torres #1
Published by: Dorchester, Leisure
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 443
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book and the Cover

Paradise and More by Shirl Henke is memorable to me for having one of the most eye-catching covers in romance. A dazzling beauty by Pino Daeni, it features a fully naked couple in a glorious clinch, their nudity covered by some strategically placed flowers and the book’s title.

Lamentably, I have a later reissue where their nakedness is hidden behind a respectable-looking stepback. Why would anyone want to hide that stunning beauty?

As for the book itself? I was conflicted. It’s both excellent at times and frustrating at others.

The Old World

A swashbuckling historical, Paradise and More is the first entry in the House of Torres duo. This romance is in late 1400s Spain. This is a seminal time in history with Columbus’ exploration into the “New World.” This was months after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had just reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had entered Hispania 700 years prior.

Lady Magdalena Luisa Valdes–for some unfathomable reason–falls madly in love at first sight with Aaron “Diego” Torres, the son of a wealthy converso family (a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism).

Aaron is arrogant and contemptuous of Magdalena, a wonderful character with the kind of fortitude that makes a heroine legendary. Beautiful and kind-hearted, Magdalena has to navigate court intrigues to avoid the eyes of the Reyes Católicos. This is to say, the King’s wandering eyes and the Queen’s jealous ones.

To flee from prejudice and persecution, Aaron decides to travel the uncharted seas with Columbus as his second-in-command, to search for new lands. Meanwhile, Magdalena befriends Aaron’s family, becoming like a second daughter to them.

After a successful conquest, Aaron returns to find Magdalena living in his parents’ household. He takes advantage of her crush on him and forces himself upon her. After ravishing her, he leaves to return to the newfound colonies. The Torres family demands honor and avow their wayward son must marry their darling Magdalena.

Destiny has tragedy in store for the House of Torres, as they are accused of heresy by the Inquisition and then executed.

The New World

Alone in the world, Magdalena has but one mission in her life: to be with the man she loves. She follows Aaron across the ocean to Columbus’ settlement in Hispaniola. Despite his contemptible behavior towards her, Magdalena still wants to marry Aaron.

However, when Magdalena arrives, she finds Aaron already has a mistress, the Native Princess, Aliyah. What’s more, Aliyah is pregnant with Aaron’s child.

As a lone European woman in Hispaniola, Magdalena draws much attention from men, including the brothers of Columbus. Aaron cannot deny the allure she holds. And though he will never be forced to do anything against his will, Aaron knows his family’s final wishes were for him to marry Magdalena.

The tropical backdrop makes an appropriate setting for their heated attraction. Their passion for each other grows to a climax. After they marry, Aaron and Magdalena find that their adventures together are just beginning. Aaron’s spurned mistress connives with the villains to destroy him in every way she can. Aaron and Magdalena must work together to overcome even more obstacles.

Final Analysis of Paradise and More

I loved that Paradise and More took us to late 15th-century Spain, an era I can’t get enough of. Columbus’ expedition into the Americas was an unusual backdrop for a romance. Shirl Henke did a great job capturing the era, even though her protagonists were sometimes a bit too modern in their thinking.

This epic, late-era bodice ripper is a tumultuous read that features a loveable, resilient heroine, but the hero is a bit of a jerk and not in a good way. Although I must say, the love scenes were…oh my! ¡Muy caliente!

The first half of this book was so good and filled with action: bloody sword fights, the hero’s entire family being killed, forced seduction, and the spanning of years & continents. Although, when Magdalena got to Hispanola, the pace slowed down a bit.

Aaron was a douche canoe. If not for the machinations of the scorned “other-woman,” Aliyah, the last half would have dragged needlessly.

All in all, I found Paradise and More to be a mostly diverting historical romance that took both history and romance seriously. This had a great cover, a likable heroine, and a unique setting. It needed a to-die-for hero to elevate it to a spectacular level.

For those curious to continue the story, the love lives of Aaron’s two sons are told in the sequel, Return to Paradise.

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
4
Characters
3.5
Writing
4
Chemistry
4.5
Fun Factor
4
Cover
5
Overall: 4.2

Synopsis

Second in command to Cristobal Colon, Aaron sets sail for the Indies seeking adventure in the new world and fleeing persecution in the old. Caught between King Fernando’s desire and Queen Ysabel’s jealousy, Magdalena follows the man she has always loved to the ends of the known world and beyond. Drawn together across religious barriers and storm-tossed oceans, they discover a lush paradise fraught with danger and desire.

PARADISE AND MORE by SHIRL HENKE
bandit's brazen kiss

Covers of the Week #26

We had a lot of fun a couple of months back doing Covers of the Week #12, where we posted images of when romance covers by talented artists go hilariously bad. So we’re doing it again!

As always, if you’d like to see more cover art, head over to our COVERS section, where you can view pages for individual COVER ARTISTS or take a gander at past Covers of the Week. If you want even more information about romance book covers, check out our COVER LINKS PAGE.

For the week of Monday, October 4 to Sunday, October 10, 2021 (which happens to be my birthday week), enjoy these silly or awful-looking covers that make us smile.

#1 Pino Daeni was a master artist. He was also prolific, producing 3,000 romance covers in a span of 20 years. Sometimes he had to work quickly. So it’s understandable that some of his works might fall short of his best. Bandit’s Brazen Kiss is actually a pretty cover until you realize this isn’t a paranormal romance, and the hero isn’t a centaur. We know he has to have legs to ride a horse, but where are they? Is he just a torso with arms and a head? We want to know! (Bandit’s Brazen Kiss, Kay McMahon, Zebra, 1990, Pino cover art)

#2WARNING: Some things are just not funny and not cool to joke about. But comedians Anthony Jeselnik, the late, great Norm MacDonald, and I would disagree. When it’s make-believe, it’s ok to laugh. This cover has had me in stitches for years. First, the title, The Bedroom Incident. Then the “Do Not Disturb” placard under the image. And finally, the image itself. I know that’s an adult female model, but the way she’s positioned and drawn makes her appear younger. A lot younger. Combined with the issues mentioned earlier, we think someone’s going to jail! (The Bedroom Incident, Elizabeth Oldfield, Harlequin, 1998, cover artist unknown)

#3 – Some women love getting their hair stroked as foreplay. The hero takes hair play a bit too far on the cover of Dark of the Moon, as he’s yanking a clump of hair quite forcefully. The heroine’s wincing expression shows she’s not as into it as he is. (By the way, do any fans of the soap “Days of our Lives” think the hero looks exactly like a young Drake Hogestyn who played Roman/Jack Black? Or is it just me?) (Dark of the Moon, Karen Robards, Avon, 1988, cover artist TBD)

#4 – No, this isn’t a teen romance. The couple depicted on the cover is supposed to be composed of full-fledged adults. He’s a Duke, and she’s a governess. Those children on the cover look very out of place. The title Delicate Dilemma combined with the horse’s anxious expression doesn’t bode well, either. Lastly, just what is an “American Regency Romance”? As the book is set in the post-colonial USA, when James Madison was President, the Prince Regent of England never ruled the States. It would be akin to referring to some Egyptian Pyramids dating back to the Babylonian Empire. Technically accurate, but wrong, nevertheless. (Delicate Dilemma, Luanne Walden, Warner Books, 1987, cover artist unknown)

quiet comes the night

Covers of the Week #22

Theme: Category Romance

At Sweet Savage Flame, we’ve been overlooking category romance covers in favor of flashier historical romance artwork, and it’s time to remedy that.

Series cover art is just as lovely. However, sometimes the artwork is not as prominent as it is for historicals.

In addition, the big-name cover artists usually produced illustrations for historical romance or full-length contemporary books. Sometimes they did step their toes into the waters of series or category romance and we’re happy that they did!

The Covers

For the week of Monday, September 6, 2021, to Sunday, September 12, we’re looking at gorgeous category romance covers painted by some of the greatest artists of romance novels. Below are a few category romances illustrated by the legendary Elaine Duillo, Robert Maguire, Elaine Gignilliat, and Pino. Enjoy!

  • Quiet Comes the Night, Jessica Jeffries, Harlequin, Elaine Duillo cover art
  • Every Moment Counts, Martha Hix, Silhouette, Robert Maguire cover art
  • Babycakes, Glenda Sanders, Harlequin, Elaine Gignilliat cover art,
  • Stormy Vows, Iris Johansen, Bantam, Pino cover art
springs fury

Covers of the Week #20

Theme: The Four Seasons

The power of love is as old as the Earth and as constant as the four seasons. To live is to love! At Sweet Savage Flame, romance is in the air all year long.

In 1971 singer/songwriter Carole King wrote the lovely song: “You’ve Got a Friend,” which detailed the lasting strength of love. James Taylor recorded it to great acclaim. Other artists like Dusty Springfield and Michael Jackson would put their own twists on the tune. These simple lyrics always stick with me:

Winter, spring, summer, fall
All you have to do is call…

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

Do you have a favorite season for romance?

The Covers

To celebrate the different seasons, from Monday, August 23, 2021, to Sunday, August 29, our 20th edition of Covers of the Week highlights four beautiful romance covers set during Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.

Rangoon pino

Historical Romance Review: Rangoon by Christine Monson

book review historical romance
Rangoon by Christine Monson
Rating: three-half-stars
Published: 1985
Illustrator: Pino
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader


Historical Romance Review: Rangoon by Christine Monson

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

The Book

Christine Monson‘s second book Rangoon significantly turns down the crazy factor from her previous romance Stormfire. That bodice ripper was legendary for the protagonists’ abusive revenge-based romance.

Rangoon still retains the sensitive writing that made Stormfire so haunting and memorable.

West Meets East

It’s the late 19th century. Boston-bred Lysistrata travels all the way across the world with her father, a doctor, to Burma to start a new life.

Nursing a broken heart from an ill-fated romance, Lysistrata tries valiantly to navigate her way through her new environment and its rigid class system.

She meets Richard “Ram” Harley, a half-Burmese, half-British man she can’t help but find attractive. Harley is a pirate who seduces married women and callously threatens to ruin Lysi when she discovers one of his illicit amours.

A name like Lysistrata should give a hint about the heroine’s independent, determined nature. At first, her feisty, “I’ll do it my way!” attitude tested my patience.

Over time I warmed up to her as the book evolved. She’s not the typical foot-stomping, face-slapping heroine (at least not when it comes to the hero) who was so common in old-school bodice rippers.

The Plot

Lysi is ever cognizant of her expected role in society but sticks to her convictions in an admirable and likable way.

Intrigued by Harley’s outsider status, Lysistrata pursues Ram–to her detriment.

For although their mutual desire results in a night of passion, Harley turns the tables on her, revealing a cruel nature that a veneer of civility had hidden.

When Harley is framed for a murder he did not commit, he assumes Lysi is behind the false accusations. Before he makes his getaway, he vows he will have revenge!

Lysi’s bold behavior made her numerous enemies. These unscrupulous foes collude to have her kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Revenge Turns to Passion

It’s no surprise when Harley purchases her for his own enjoyment. Now that he’s lost his life and status in the so-called civilized White society, he has nothing to lose. Harley takes her to his majestic jungle hideaway, where he will exact his vengeance.

Now going by the name Ram, he shows Lysi a darker side of his nature. For those readers who cannot stomach abuse, fear not.

Whereas in Stormfire, Monson had the hero imprison, torture, rape, and humiliate his heroine, in Rangoon Ram is not near as extreme in his cruelty. He does make Lysi his unwilling mistress.

Ram’s actions may blur the line on consent, although it’s clear Monson has written his behavior more as a “forced seduction” fantasy than a brutal violation.

“You’re practiced enough at rape,” she hissed. “It must be your only alternative to buying a bed partner.”
“But I only had to rape you a little,” he teased, “and of course, I will pay you if you prefer.”
“I prefer to be left alone!”
He laughed. “After last night, even you don’t believe that lie. Why not admit you enjoy what I do to you?”
“Go to hell.”

Despite Lysistrata’s defiance, she finds herself enchanted by Ram and his magical palace in the wilderness.

This middle portion of the story is the best part of the book as Ram and Lysi engage in a tug-and-pull power play. As a mixed-race corsair, Ram has always lived on the fringes, torn between two worlds that never truly accepted him. As a free-thinking woman, Lysistrata has been constrained by the dictates of society.

I could have read hundreds of pages more about their engrossing battle of wills.

The Faltering End

Alas, Lysistrata and Ram’s idyll in the Burmese jungle does come to an end. The false murder charges finally catch up with Ram, and he is arrested.

Now with Ram on trial, Lysistrata fights to save him from the hangman’s noose.

This is where Rangoon fell apart for me. No longer an engaging character-driven romance, the book turned into a dull courtroom drama that went on and on.

Plus, there were multiple side characters who added nothing to the story except for one charismatic fellow.

Final Analysis of Rangoon

Despite Christine Monson’s thoughtful writing, the lackluster conclusion of Rangoon caused my initial delight to wane.

It was a disappointment that the incredible, thrilling highs of her first book were not reached here.

Monson’s characters are strong. Her sensitive skill at her craft was undeniable. However, the plotting was weak in Rangoon. 

It’s one of those romance novels I’m glad to have read but have no plans to ever revisit.

On to the next book.

3.74 Stars

Rating Report Card
Plot
3
Characters
4
Writing
4.5
Chemistry
4
Fun Factor
3
Cover
3
Overall: 3.6

Synopsis

WILLING PRISONER IN A PALACE OF DREAMS…
Rangoon. Lysistrata’s heart raced with excitement. A world away from Boston. A place where she could forget…

Rangoon—land of color and adventure—where, like an emerging butterfly, she would taste the exotic and dangerous life of the streets, and dance in the palaces of princes.

But one man made her want even more. Richard Harley’s dark and wicked eyes warned of danger…and hinted at pleasures beyond her wildest fantasies. Drawn, like a moth to the flame, by the lure of the East and the man who was its soul, Lysistrata traveled forbidden roads and journeyed deep into the heart of Burma. And in the secluded majesty of Richard Harley’s castle of erotic dreams, she could at last yield to the man whose passion possessed her, as they both surrendered to the obsession of their love.

RANGOON by CHRISTINE MONSON